I was astounded when a fellow student told me, Your dog is fat. Twenty-some years ago I was taking a class with this acquaintance, and I respected her insight. However, it was the first time anyone had mentioned the fat thing.
She's quite chubby, you know. I didn't. I had no idea. On the contrary, I considered Dory to be slim and trim. She was active and happy, and I prided myself on her condition.
How could I not have known? How could I not be aware of what a fit dog looked like?
I'd transitioned Dory to a raw food diet when she was a puppy after a long period of digestive difficulties from eating highly processed fast-food kibble. She loved her menu! If she finished her portion and seemed to want more, I indulged her, assuming she needed it. I had no idea I was feeding her to excess. I simply didn't know.
I had choices in how to react to Jen's comment: I could have:
- taken it very personally, becoming indignant and offended.
- brushed it off as nonsense and just an opinion - optimal weight is purely subjective, right?
- been thankful for the information, motivated to delve into it deeper for the benefit of my dog.
I chose Option #3. I didn't want an overweight dog, and I felt terrible that I hadn't been savvy enough to recognize that she was indeed fat. I got that weight off her. She was never overweight again and lived to be nearly 16.
Unfortunately, the trend of obesity in humans and that in our pets is tracking in the same direction. We have become desensitized to the sight of overweight dogs. Fat is sometimes synonymous with love. We have been blinded into accepting overweight as normal. It is not. It's time to recalibrate!
In 2018, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese.
There is no reason why we shouldn't maintain our dogs' weight at the optimal level even if we ourselves aren't the fit athletes we want to be. These two things aren't related, and it's unfair to our dogs to subject them to a potentially life-limiting existence with the risk of many health problems caused, or exacerbated by, being overweight.
The Fat Gap: 93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners whose animals were assessed as obese considered them to be of normal weight. *
How to Determine your Dog's Body Condition (no matter the breed)
Please test your dog's body condition.
If a pet's ribs feel like the knuckles on a closed fist, the pet is underweight
If it feels more like the palm-side of a flat hand, the pet is overweight
If a pet's ribs feel like the top of the fingers on a flat hand, the pet is fairly close to an ideal body condition.
The Veterinarian's Conundrum: We humans are so sensitive about our own body image that the mere topic of weight can turn on the defensives even when it's not about us. This tendency has made it very difficult for vets to have a productive conversation with clients about their pets' weight. It's not likely to be well-received and can even potentially lead to a client leaving. Veterinarians often don't say anything in order to avoid this uncomfortable conversation, sure to invite backlash.
This is a huge problem. Veterinarians are the primary go-to for pet health information. When trainers or other dog professionals bring up the topic of weight with a client, we are frequently told something like, he just had a check-up, and the vet didn't say anything. Or the vet said he's fine. It happens so frequently that we can pretty much predict this response when we start a conversation about weight. It's exasperating when our efforts to help educate dog owners about their dogs' weight are dismissed, partially due to this conflict of information.
Many dog professionals, me included, are involved in dog sports where fitness is the most important factor for performance. These performance dogs get generous food rewards, too. Input can be carefully controlled without sacrificing food rewards. Yes, even puppies can be overweight, bully breeds, too! Even if our dog isn't in a sport, it should still be of optimal weight at the very least.
It may be difficult to control our own weight, but it's insanely simple to control our dogs' weight. Once we know our dog is overweight, we have no excuse but to help them slim down. We owe it to them.
Among all diseases that perplex the veterinary community and plague our population of pets, obesity has the greatest collective negative impact on pet health it' time we stop accepting the status quo.